Approaching Nice, France from the A6 highway it’s clear why Italians flock to the French Riviera. It’s stunning! Steep green cliffs dotted with brightly colored homes cascade into azure waters. Us Italians feel right at home in Nice. But why if Nice is in France? During our most recent trip to Nice, I learned why the deep-seated love Italians profess for Nice, is more than skin deep.
What follows is a quick story of how one power “House” shuffling between France and Italy impacted the culture of Nice. 40 vivid azure pictures of the jewel of the French Riviera. Last but not least, just in case those pictures turn into google trips to France, 12 simple pleasures to enjoy in Nice.
Editors Note: Post updated on June 8th, 2022 to reflect photos from our latest visit, and share a quick story about why Italians feel right at home in Nice.
Most famous for azure waters that lap a four-mile long pebbly city beach in the Baie des Anges (Angel’s Bay) Nice is located in the French Riviera between Monaco and Cannes. Other top attractions in Nice include the Promenade des Anglais, La Chaise Bleue, mild temperatures… and Italian Baroque architecture. Here’s why!
Amadeus VII of the House of Savoy acquired the port city of Nice during his reign from 1383 to 1391. The House of Savoy (aka Savoia in Italy) is a historic dynasty of Europe that acquired territory between what is now France, Italy, and Switzerland. As the story goes by the 15th century, the House of Savoy was going places and aligned with the powers that be of the time, aka the Holy Roman Empire. By the 18th century, the House of Savoia having been given ducal status (aka dukedom) became the ruling house of Italy. First over the kingdom of Sicily followed by Sardinia. Where things get a bit complicated is that over time the House of Savoy saw a series of weak rulers which lead to French occupation. In fact, during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, only Sardinia remained free of French control.
Crazy right? Let’s just say the history of what’s French and what’s Italian in the Western Alps is complex thanks to the twisty history of the House of Savoy. So while Nice might never have officially belonged to “Italy” since the formal unification of Italy as a nation didn’t begin until 1861, Nice is at heart a little bit Italian. Sort of Like a relaxed, elegant city that takes after the best side of both her parents, Italy and France.
For those who have never been, here’s a video from the New York Times that perfectly captures the allure of Nice.
For those who enjoy exploring through pictures, here are our favorite 40 pictures of Nice, France.
40 Pictures of Nice
What to Do in Nice
While Nice has historically been known as a vacation destination for English aristocracy and European royalty, not all its charms are pricey. Here are 12 simple pleasures, and inexpensive things to love about Nice, France.
1. Enjoy Perfect Weather Year Round
A big part of the reason Nice, France is so beautiful, and such a popular tourist destination is near-perfect weather. A mild Mediterranean climate, on average Nice, enjoys over 300 days of sun a year. By 11 am most days, winter coats come off and sunny seaside walks begin. Enjoying a break from winter weather is a treat in and of itself in Nice, France.
2. Ligurian Sea Gazing
On a sunny day in Nice, France answering the age-old question “Why is the Sky Blue?” is pretty hard. Both the sky and the sea are so blue, that it’s hard to tell which is reflecting and which is beaming blue. In Nice simply gazing out at the Ligurian Sea is so enjoyable, that one need make no other plans.
3. Promenade des Anglais
The Promenade des Anglais (Walkway of the English) known affectionally locally as ‘The Prom’ is simply the best city beach promenade I’ve ever seen. The Prom’s ample width is divided for walkers, runners, and sporty peeps on wheels. At just over 4 miles long, simply weaving your way down The Prom on a sunny day in Nice, France is an absolute delight.
4. La Chaise Bleue
In rows of twenty La Chaise Bleue (the blue chairs) lining The Prom are iconic symbols of Nice, France. Simple, attractive, useful. After an eight-mile walk up and down The Prom, locals, and tourists love nothing more than to sit and lazily watch planes fly by. Guessing what airline and where they are coming from stretches on for hours because no one wants to leave those perfectly appointed blue chairs.
5. Conversation à Nice, 2007 by Jaume Plensa
Once a simple walk in Place Masséna has now become an event thanks to famed Barcelona Contemporary Artist Jaume Plensa. His Conversation à Nice, 2007 installation consists of seven polyester resin sculptures of men kneeling. Floating 40 feet above the square the sculptures are lit in a rainbow of revolving colors. As day falls into night the changing hues grow more intense, making the installation easier to understand. Seven men, seven continents. Communication in color. At times in sync, at times in discord.
6. Le Negresco Hotel
Since 1913 Le Negresco Hotel has been a symbol of luxury on the French Riviera. The outside is an imposing pearl of perfection. The inside, a riotous mix of things that don’t belong, yet somehow go. Contemporary Nana Jaune sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle stand between 17th-century paintings. Period furniture sits atop a giant 70s-style carpet by artist Raymond Moretti. Walking into Le Negresco like you own the place when you really just have to use the loo, is an absolute trip and a completely free art gallery.
7. Castle Hill
If uphill is no bother, definitely hike up Castle Hill and take in some of the most breathtaking views the French Riviera Nice has to offer.
8. Promenade du Paillon
Want to know what it feels like to walk on water? Head over to the urban oasis of Promenade du Paillon. This Green space offers shade from surrounding plants and trees, plus a reflecting pool, fountains, and a play area for kids.
Figuring out where to eat in Nice is simple. The city is full of restaurants. Thanks to students from nearby Universities many are casual and affordable. At Peixes a Mediterranean restaurant specializing in the seafood we practically inhaled swordfish carpaccio in a mandarine vinaigrette for 11€ and tuna tartare with wasabi mayonnaise nestled in pureed seaweed (my favorite) for 10€.
Peixes is everything seafood lovers need for a relaxing, highly enjoyable meal. The freshest fish available is treated with respect. Mermaid painted walls. Turquoise chairs. Playful staff. Large windows. Perfectly chilled white wine and endless helpings of cold butter and baguette. My only regret was diving into the food too fast to take photos. So please forgive a curated video (in French) instead!
10. Marché Aux Fleurs Cours Saleya
Marché AuX Fleurs Cours Saleya (Flower Market Cours Saleya) has everything open-air market fans look for. Fruits and vegetables, fresh fish, flowers, and sweets. Here, I got my dream life fix. The one where I imagine what it would be like to live in the Nice, France. Poor Paolo, I love Nice so much, someday I just might ask him to move there!
11. Window Shopping in Old Nice
Old Nice is a beautiful historical part of the city. Founded around 350 BC by Greek seafarers, the Romans followed settling further uphill. Several occupations later, Nice finally became part of France on March 24, 1860, when Napoleon III signed the treaty of Turin. With such a windy past, it’s no wonder the streets of Old Nice are interesting. Narrow passageways dip up and down curving in and out. As with most historic city centers, there is plenty of touristy kitsch to avoid but there are also a few gems that hint at the history and traditions of Nice.
12. Sunset Happy Hour on the Beach
As the second most visited city in France after Paris, nearly *5 million visitors flow into the French Riviera to see Nice each year. What do millions of tourists want after exploring Nice, France on a sunny day? A sunset happy hour right on the beach. Nice, France has perfected sunset happy hours. The Prom is lined with street-side, rooftop, and beachside bars all with fairytale views at sunset. A chilled bottle of Rosé and a sunset view are the perfect way to end any day in Nice, France. It’s just that simple.
Paolo and I have been traveling around Italy now for a decade. Yet France remained a relatively new country to me until recently. Sure there was that European road trip I took with my NYC bestie Suzanne back in 2009 when I saw Strasbourg and Colmar. That day trip from Bardonecchia, Italy to Annecy, France Paolo and I took in 2013. That time in 2014 when Paolo said “should we have lunch in France today?” before casually whisking me over the border to Briançon. Trust me being a midwest American kid I know how that one sounds!
It wasn’t until making it to Paris in June of 2014 that my mind was made up. Despite my new status and an Italian wife, I needed more France in my life. Since 2019 Paolo and I have made it to Carcassonne, Lyon, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Saint-Emilion, Pérouges, Nice, and most recently Avignon. Yet Nice remains the one place in France where I feel most at home. So much so, that I couldn’t help asking Paolo for a history lesson. This is when I first heard the story of the history between France and Italy in regards to Nice. I hope you enjoy this little trip over to France and join me again soon for another post from Italy!